St. Patrick’s Day Edition
A song: Irish Blessing
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
And, until we meet again,
May you be held in the palm of God’s hand.
Photos by Janet Williams
A St “Patrick” Story
Whether the lens through which you view our great country is blue or red, rural or urban, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, etc. you can’t deny the thing we almost all have in common – we’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. On March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, it’s hard not to be reminded that most of us came from across the ocean. After German ancestry the second most populous ancestry in the United States is Irish. Nationwide, the population claiming some Irish ancestry is estimated to be 11.2% with New York state having the largest at over 13%. Certainly, if there is a success story for an immigrant population coming to the United States it is the migration from Ireland. Most Irish immigrants arrived dirt poor with little or no education, but many would rise to the highest places in business, entertainment and government. While most people believe John Kennedy was the first US president with predominantly Irish ancestors, he was not. Both of Andrew Jackson’s parents were born in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland. They relocated to the United States in 1765, two years before his birth. The fact was that in the 1820s when Jackson sought the presidency, being Irish wasn’t at the top of the list for electability!
Coming from the New York metropolitan area, one is usually very much aware of one’s nationality. As you move geographically away, your nationality awareness diminishes. John Lindsay, a former mayor of New York, used to talk about the myth that New York city was this “great melting pot” of immigrants. Only it wasn’t! In the city there was the Italian neighborhood, the Irish Neighborhood, the Polish neighborhood and on and on. Aside from the occasional “West Side Story” coming together, there wasn’t a lot of “melting” happening in the city. Consequently, all the different parades became a big deal for whatever nationality is celebrating that day.
For many of us, a trip back to the country our ancestors came from is something very special. About 15 years ago, my wife Maggie and I were lucky enough to take that trip and be able to enjoy it with our son – who happens to be named Patrick. Patrick is an integral part of this story as he provided the push to get us to Ireland. ￼
Patrick has made a life on the ocean, sailing boats of all types. In 2006 he won a big race in the Antigua Classic Regatta and to celebrate he immediately sailed his small boat (23 ft.) across the ocean to Ireland. I should mention he was alone and the boat had no engine! Enough to give lots of parents gray (make that white!) hair. At his urging, we decided to visit him in Ireland and I would try to trace my family roots. I am third generation on the immigrant chart. My grandparents, who had landed at Ellis Island, NY, were from County Cavan, Ireland. Beyond that I knew almost nothing. The fact was, like many if not most, the reason they came here was because conditions were “God awful” in the old country. When they got here they wanted to become citizens and Americans as fast as they could. They worked hard, absorbed as much of America as they could, married, raised a family and served their new country. The sad fact for me is once here they didn’t talk about where they came from, the family they left or how scared they must have been. For sure, I should have asked more, but I didn’t. Life and growing up got in the way.
Our trip to Ireland actually started with a bonus. The airline had overbooked and were looking for volunteers to fly the next day. This is back in the day when compensation for delaying your flight was really worthwhile. We volunteered and ended up getting a flight and hotel deal to London a few months later. So we flew out the next day to Ireland, rented a car and set off to meet up with Patrick. We met and decided to drive all around Ireland and wind up in the town my grandparents had come from. At the county seat in Cavan we visited one of the many ancestry places that will try to trace your roots for you. We knew the town and the last name. The only problem is our last name is oh so common in County Cavan, Ireland. Nevertheless, they gave us something to go on.
My name is Peter. My brother, the oldest, is Philip. My father is Philip. My grandfather who came here from Ireland is Peter. So when we get to Ireland we think we’re looking for Philip or Peter. At the ancestry place they traced my great grandfather who in the registry of births signed his name as parent with an “X” and someone had printed his name for him – PATRICK REILLY. It turns out that when we named our son, unbeknown to us, we named him for the Reilly who sent his children to a new life.
There is one other footnote to the story. My grandparents, it turns out, were born and raised in different villages within walking distance from each other. We had always assumed that my grandfather came to the United States first and met my grandmother here. It turns out the records show that my grandmother came first with her family and then within a year my grandfather arrived alone at the age of 17. They had to have known each other in Ireland before coming to America. We’ll never know for sure, but I like to think it is a story of young love following young love.
If there’s one thing we should tell our children, it is to ask questions of us. I deeply regret that I didn’t ask more, because at some point so much gets lost and there’s no one to ask…
Photos by Audrey Deveney
Ireland was, and probably still is, the perfect country in which to travel with children. In May of 1984 we took our two boys, then 6 and 9, with us to Ireland, Scotland, and England, with the primary objective of tracking down and photographing ancient standing stones. Pre GPS and even decent maps, our long days were sometimes spent driving around on nearly empty country roads searching for the elusive old apple tree that marked a field or a trail in our guidebook. We climbed stiles and made our way through fields of sheep or cows, occasionally encountering a welcoming landowner. For the boys we made a point of spending time in one of the ruined castles or abbeys we encountered nearly every day, perfect for climbing and exploring—and imagining.
We had PB&J picnic lunches and dinners in pubs, which often welcomed the boys with glasses of milk on the bar that they could sip while watching the telly. And the B&B host families, sometimes with small children of their own, were understanding about such challenges as laundry that had reached critical mass. One mother offered me her washing machine, after which we laid all the bits and pieces of clothing around the house on the registers to dry overnight. In the end we saw countless stones of every configuration, explored islands, villages, and barrens, and had a magical time. Having the boys with us made our trip especially fun, despite my father’s dire warning that they would complicate it and wouldn’t remember anything. I kept a detailed journal, thank goodness, as well as lots of photos, to insure that that will never happen.
C. S. Lewis was Irish
Dunluce Castle and the Glens of Antrim
When we ignore or gloss over major aspects of a writer like C. S. Lewis—roots, religious affiliation, ethnicity—we diminish our own understanding of our subject, rendering the person less rich and less than complete.
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 29th, 1898. His grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Hamilton, Rector of St. Mark’s, Dundela in East Belfast, baptized Clive Staples Lewis in St Mark’s on January 29th 1899. Lewis’ parents were from County Cork. His father Albert was a solicitor whose parents moved to Belfast to work in the shipbuilding industry and his mother Florence, “Flora,” was the daughter of a Protestant clergyman who served a parish in East Belfast. She studied at the Royal University of Ireland in Belfast where she gained First class Honors in Logic and Second-Class Honors in Mathematics.
But Lewis is Belfast, Northern Ireland’s most famous literary son. St Anne’s Cathedral website invited people on the 50th anniversary of his death in 2013 to record in a leather-bound book how they have been influenced by Lewis’ writings. Its website also highlights Lewis’ family connection to the Cathedral: his uncle, Sir William Ewart and several of the Ewart family are commemorated there. The C. S. Lewis 2013 Festival programme notes that after his father removed Lewis from Campbell College Belfast to send him to school at Malvern College in England in 1913, he became an atheist there at age fifteen. These are lively discussions of Lewis’ identities. They recognize the importance of his Irish identity and Church of Ireland affiliations but the BBC report of the 2013 Lewis commemoration at Westminster Abbey labelled him as an author of the best-selling Chronicles of Narnia and as a respected Oxford scholar and literary critic failing to note his Irish origins.
To take Lewis’ Irish character seriously is to recognize and define him as someone with two cultural identities: he was born Irish, and despite the fact that he resided and worked in England, he maintained an Irish identity: heaven in The Great Divorce is an “emerald-green” land. Although Lewis lived most of his life as an Oxford and Cambridge scholar, his dreams were of Ireland as he notes in his diary, and he visited the north or the south of Ireland almost every year. Lewis once described heaven as “Oxford placed in the middle of County Down.” In the Glens of Antrim (Northern Ireland) and in the golden sands of the Antrim coast at Portrush, Ballycastle and elsewhere, we glimpse Narnia. The Horse Bree in The Horse and His Boy, describes it: “The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests… Oh the sweet air of Narnia!” That Bree speaks of glens identifies an Irish (or Scottish, Welsh, or Cornish) landscape. What confirms Lewis’ voice is the cadences of exile that Bree expresses—as Lewis himself does—in yearning for a distant homeland. Such longing became a theme connected to joy in his writings: in his book Surprised by Joy, Lewis says “All joy…emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.” Irish currents run through the novels: to call Peter High King is to use historical Irish descriptions of High Kings of Ireland ruling over lesser kings and queens. Peter is High King in relation to Queens Susan, Lucy and King Edward in the Chronicles of Narnia.
As for his own reflections, Lewis himself surmised that he wasn’t recognized as an Irish author in his lifetime perhaps because he was a self-identified Irish Protestant atheist not a Roman Catholic. Alistair McGrath, in his excellent 2103 biography, C.S.Lewis–A Life, Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, says, “many still regard Lewis as lying outside the pale of true Irish cultural identity on account of his Ulster Protestant roots.” While McGrath discusses Lewis’ various identities including his Ulster Protestant roots, his atheism, his conversion to theism and then Christianity, and his Anglicanism, still other questions remain unaddressed: how did Lewis negotiate expressions of his dual cultures? Was he drawn to authors like William Butler Yeats, “an author exactly after my own heart,” he says in a letter to a friend, precisely because he wanted to investigate how Yeats “de-Anglicized” his own literary vernacular which he describes thus: “Yeats writes plays and poems of rare spirit and beauty about our old Irish mythology.” Lewis investigates Irish language in other poets: he sees in Spenser’s poem, Faerie Queen, the effects of Spenser’s sojourn in Ireland with its “quests and wanderings and inextinguishable desires, and Ireland itself – the soft, wet air, the loneliness, the mufﬂed shapes of the hills, the heart-rending sunsets.”
A failure to recognize Lewis’ negotiated Irish identity is a failure to identify central interests of his life and writings. It is challenging to incorporate various religious and ethnic identities into our understanding of people, but our lives and identities are indeed composite and irreducible. By recognizing the intricacies of Lewis’ ethnic and religious identity, we broaden and deepen the means by which we try to understand all aspects of his life and thereby weexpand our own horizons.
Irish Brown Bread
From My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong, Chef, Washington, D.C.
I make this often for it is delicious especially with smoked salmon.
2 cups of Irish-style whole meal flour
(available from King Arthur, I use regular whole wheat)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1 large egg lightly beaten
Make the dough: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour. Whisk flours, baking soda, and salt together and rub in butter with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and egg and work them into the dough with your hands until incorporated. Do not over mix.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a a round loaf about 8 inches in diameter. Place on the baking sheet and with a sharp knife cut a cross into the top about 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 40 minutes until well browned. Place on rack and let it rest for 30 minutes before serving with lots of butter.
Thoughts for the Day
Perhaps the most radical act of resistance in the face of adversity is to live joyfully.
We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.
Courtesy of Gratefulness.org